Happy, vague Catholics with 11 kids (updated)

Jen and Larry Kilmer have 11 children. They are Catholic. We live in a day and age in which the two halves of that equation are not automatically connected.

That's interesting, in and of itself. However, if you are interested in reading anything about the substance of the faith that shapes this unique family's life, the Washington Post feature story about them is not going to satisfy you.

However, please note that I am writing this real fast so that a few GetReligion readers, if they wish, can sign on and chat with Jen Kilmer at 1 p.m. EDT. Maybe you can ask her what the Kilmer family's faith has to do with its ability to survive and even thrive.

As it is, this is about as deep as it gets in this delightful, but rather hollow, feature:

There is no secret formula to their success, says Jen (and aside from an occasional hand from in-laws, no outside child-care help either). But clearly, keeping on top of a family this size requires superhuman doses of organization and patience. Not to mention a level of personal sacrifice beyond measure.

“People are always asking, ‘How do you have time for yourself?’” says Jen. “But when you realize there’s more to life than yourself ... I think time to yourself is overrated.”

Jen and Larry met in 1994 when they were both teachers and soccer coaches at area Catholic high schools. Their soccer teams played each other; they married three years later. Jen, who grew up on a small farm outside Boston with eight siblings, says she always wanted lots of kids. Larry, who was adopted and has one sibling, had no preconceived notions of family. The couple say they agreed to accept the children God sent them.

Now, one can only assume that the final sentence there is a reference to Natural Family Planning. If so, it is a very strange assumption -- leaving readers with the impression that natural birth control methods do not work at all, which is not the case when couples are knowledgeable and committed to using these principles.

My reading of that passage is that the Kilmers simply "agreed to accept the children that God sent them" -- period. However, it would be nice to know what these words mean to them. This hot-button subject, believe it or not, is never discussed in any detail.

Instead, the emphasis in the story -- National Geographic alien culture style -- is on the joyful precision that allows the five-bedroom house to escape chaos. The father is a teacher. The mother works at home. The children attend Catholic schools. I love the detail that the family cannot stay in hotels because they are considered a fire hazard, because of the awkward adult-to-child ratio.

And their faith? This is one of the only factual hints that we have:

During the school year, Jen’s days begin at 5 a.m.

She lays out the children’s uniforms, makes lunches, then attends 6:30 Mass at the Shrine at St. Jude.

After Mass, Larry and the oldest boys leave for school.

The remaining school-age children get dressed, eat breakfast, grab lunches and walk to school. The youngest stay home with Mom, who finishes up the morning routine: cleaning from breakfast, making beds and putting in a load of laundry. This fall, two of the three youngest will start preschool, adding a little wrinkle to the established morning routine.

So Jen Kilmer, at least, is a daily Mass Catholic. With the family's children in Catholic schools -- one would assume a very traditional one -- readers could make certain assumptions about the faith content in the classrooms and chapels. But there is no other significant religious content in the story, in terms of the Catholic faith that sets this family apart from, well, other American Catholics. I wondered: How close to they live to their church?

At the very end of the piece there are a few nice details, but, again, they pass quickly:

She admits to crying sometimes under the weight of it all. But those “pity parties” are short-lived.

“I can only feel sorry for myself for so long because there is work to be done,” she says.

In the midst of the stress and commotion, the constant chorus of “Mom!” and the backbreaking pace, Jen remains calm and cheerful. It’s evident that part of what gives her peace as well as the confidence of knowing it will all work out is her Catholic faith.

“Somehow God provides,” she often says, “in ways you don’t even know.”

That faith guides the children as well. When he grows up, Tommy, 9, says he wants to be “a professional basketball player and a priest.”

“If I am a professional basketball player,” he says, “I’ll do that, retire and then become a priest.”

When asked if more children are in their future, Jen mentions her age and says, “Probably not, but we would love to. We would accept whatever comes.”

And that is that. It possible, do join the upcoming Post chat session.

UPDATE: OK, the transcript is up -- right here. Did any of you join in?

Yes, the NFP issue did come up. Jen Kilmer's answer adds a bit more insight into their beliefs on the subject.

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